In roughly a week Agincourt 1415: Myth and Reality begins so we look at some new information about another famous battle from the Hundred Years’ War.
For over 250 years it has been believed that the Battle of Crécy, one of the most famous battles of the Middle Ages, was fought just north of the French town of Crécy-en-Ponthieu in Picardy. Now, a new book that contains the most intensive examination of sources about the battle to date, offers convincing evidence that the fourteenth-century battle instead took place 5.5 km to the south.
This is one of several fascinating new details revealed in The Battle of Crécy: A Casebook, edited by Michael Livingston and Kelly DeVries, which is being released this week by Liverpool University Press. It contains 81 contemporary sources in facing-page translation (many published for the first time) that describe the battle, along with eight new essays that reconstruct the events of August 26, 1346.
The battle, fought between King Edward III of England and Philippe VI of France during the early stages of the Hundred Years War, involved tens of thousands of soldiers. It ended with a major English victory and the French army crippled. Historians have often pointed to it as being one the most important battles of the medieval period, noted especially for the use of the longbow within it.
Michael Livingston, an Associate Professor at The Citadel, penned the article “The Location of the Battle of Crécy,” in which he examined the traditional site of the battle, just on the outskirts of the town of Crécy, and proposed a new location to the south – at the Forest of Crécy. “I can be 99% certain that the traditional site has no connection to the Battle of Crécy,” he tells Medievalists.net, adding, “I can only be, say, 90% certain that my alternative location has a connection.”
The traditional site of the battle dates back to at least 1757, placing the struggle on the northwest side of the town of Crécy-en-Ponthieu. The site became a popular tourist destination by the 19th century, and while some historians have raised doubts about the location, it has generally been accepted as where the conflict took place. Livingston writes, “one must admit that the traditional location makes for a dramatic scene. It is conveniently close to town — a positive situation for tourism and the market — yet its hilltop location also imbues it with a powerful presence. Looking out today from the supposed location of Edward III’s windmill, one has a commanding view east and south, across the breadth of the approaching roads to Crécy — enough so, in fact, that it is hard to imagine how the French army could essentially stumble upon the English position, as several of our sources indicate.”
Livingston’s article notes numerous other problems with the site, including the fact that no archaeological evidence has been found that would indicate such large-scale fighting taking place there. Moreover, the natural terrain of this area, which includes “a tall, steep and almost sheer bank running the full two kilometres of the length of the valley,” makes it a very odd place for the French to stage their attack on the English position. Livingston explains:
Philippe VI has a poor reputation in military annals, much of it due to his terrible defeat at Crécy. As we have seen, the traditional location, if true, only serves to blacken his reputation further: simply put, for him to send his forces on what had to be a serpentine charge into slaughter, Philippe — and every advisor in his service — would have had to be a moron.
Instead, the historian thoroughly examined the dozens of sources about the battle, none of which actually state that the English forces reached the town of Crécy. After analyzing the movements of the armies and the details given in various accounts, Livingston believes that “the sources instead point to a site that was en route to the town of Crécy, beside the Forest of Crécy south of that town, between it and Abbeville.”
He adds, “It makes strategic sense of the actions of both armies. It fits all the evidence on the ground and in the documents, even peculiarities like Froissart’s designation of the event as the ‘battle between La Braie and Crécy’ and Knighton’s reference to the field of ‘Westglise’.”
The Forest of Crécy still remains a prominent feature today, surrounded by wheat fields as it was back in the fourteenth century. In what he called an extraordinary and unforgettable experience, Livingston described how he and Kelly DeVries visited the new location:
“Kelly and I visited it together two summers ago, after I’d already convinced him on paper that I’d found the site. (We had both shared significant misgivings about the traditional site, so he was quite amenable to finding an alternative!) Still, I think we were both quite nervous when we parked the car and got out to examine the actual ground.
“We spent the next few hours walking the field and finding (among other discoveries) the massive ditch that seems to fit with what some of our sources say about the English position. We argued back and forth, each taking turns playing the devil’s advocate. It was intense and exhausting and exhilarating in the way that the best research can be.
“Finally, late in the day, we were standing just the two of us in the field that is today called the Garden of the Genoese. There was nothing left to debate. Kelly turned to me and said, “Mike, you found it.”
“It was a powerful moment of accomplishment, and a part of me truthfully wanted to jump for joy and pop some champagne. But there was something else I was feeling, too. “Maybe,” I replied. “But if I did, there are only two people in the world right now who know where many thousands of men lost their lives. And we’re standing in the middle of it.”